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China's Wen Promises Greater Cooperation With Arab Nations

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Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is promising greater cooperation with Arab nations on economic, political and cultural fronts. Mr. Wen told the Arab League in Cairo Saturday that the key to better relations is "respecting diversity of civilizations."

Premier Wen stressed China's role as "trusted brothers" of the Arab people and noted the history of trade between the nations dates back to the Silk Road. Mr. Wen said trade has soared in modern times, more than tripling between 2004 and last year, when it topped $132 billion.

The Chinese leader spoke in Cairo ahead of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, a major investment conference in the Egyptian resort Sharm el Sheikh. He also held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on bilateral ties.

But his speech to the Arab League focused mainly on cultural diversity and respect.

He noted that China has 56 ethnic groups, and more than 20 million Muslims. He elaborated in detail how the Chinese government helps ensure they have access to what he called Muslim food.

Premier Wen also said the Chinese government works for the equality of all ethnic groups, a point disputed by China's Tibetan and Uighur dissidents, among others. He added that he rejected linking terrorism to any ethnic group or religion, again a point debated by Muslim Uighurs who have been rounded up in anti-terror sweeps.

The Chinese leader was given a warm reception in Cairo, with the audience applauding at various points in his speech. But his reference to how every Chinese household has embraced the Arabic classic, 1001 Nights drew a gentle rebuke from Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa.

Amr Moussa said that while the stories include interesting historical ideas, that time is done and gone. He pointed to the Arab world's contemporary exports, including scientific texts.

All the same, the Arab League chief noted that China is a development model to be emulated.